Kogarah High School says new student achievement recommendations require more funding

Fair funding: Kogarah High School principal Julie Ross says a new report into ways of improving student performance is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be backed up by significant NSW funds. Picture: John Veage
Fair funding: Kogarah High School principal Julie Ross says a new report into ways of improving student performance is a step in the right direction, but it needs to be backed up by significant NSW funds. Picture: John Veage

Educators have welcomed the ‘Gonski 2.0’ report that makes recommendations on how to improve student achievement and performance, but they say more funding is needed to make it happen.

‘Gonski 2.0’ presented its final report, Through Growth to Achievement  – a Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools 2018, in May this year.

A panel led by report chairman, David Gonski, consulted with teachers, principals, unions, families, researchers, industry and the community, on how to maximise learning.

The report made 23 recommendations into what reforms were needed to put Australian schools at the forefront of education.

One of the key ‘priority’ suggestions, is to move from a year-based curriculum to one that individualises learning progression – independent of year or age.

Recommendations include strengthening school-community engagement through partnerships and extra-curricular activities, developing a new online and on-demand assessment tool and better matching teacher skill supply with workforce demands.

Kogarah High School principal, Julie Ross, says the report is positive, but more money is needed from the NSW government to make it a reality.

“Most recommendations are what we are doing anyway, or what we’d like to be doing more of,” she said.

“They talk about individual attention for students who aren’t meeting minimum standard, but schools need a considerable sum of money so they can do the job that David Gonski is saying should be done.

“If we don’t, we are going to face a crisis, because when the federal government is only funding schools to 20 per cent of the resourcing standard, there’s a huge problem.”

She says most of her budget goes toward staffing – with little left for anything else.

“If we had received the original Gonski funding, I would have three times the amount of money that I’m currently working with, and three times the amount of teachers,” she said.

“But there is also only so much a school can do.

“Additional areas of responsibility have already been pushed onto schools.

“I have teachers running before-and-after school activities like coding – I’d love to have that funded as part of the school program.

“Teachers with up to 30 kids in a classroom would love to be able to meet the individual needs of every student, but where’s the capacity to do that when you take time away from the other 29 to deal with the one?”

“I only have two specialist support teachers. I would have 10 if I could. If I was able to multiply the impact of those support teachers, the results would be amazing.”

Mrs Ross says a key recommendation is strengthening collaboration among all education stages – especially early childhood.

“We are getting kids in from primary school who have such low level skills in reading and numeracy – they aren’t ready for high school,” she said.

“Kids haven’t had quality preschool and aren’t engaging in formal skill-building, so there’s no orientation to learning.

“That’s where funding needs to be considered in the big picture, so we can intensively work with students and bring them up to speed.”

The report also stated that since 2000, Australian student outcomes have declined in key subjects such as reading and science.

Its panel suggested better industry partnerships – a move welcomed by the Kogarah principal.

“We have partnerships with TAFE and uni but we don’t figure as highly as we potentially could in engineering and science subjects,” she said.

“We’ve got kids really interested in that – we run two physics and chemistry classes.”

But she doubts that developing a new online and on-demand student learning assessment will be successful.

“It’s the only recommendation that makes me sceptical,” she said.

“Teachers know their students and how they learn, and an online tool won’t be much use if you don’t have contextual understanding about a student, for example, what’s going on in their lives….90 per cent of teaching is about relationships.”

President of the Australian Education Union, Correna Haythorpe, said the federal government’s cuts of $1.9 billion from public schools in 2018 and 2019 left 87 per cent of public schools below the minimum level of funding required.

“We know that when schools have the resources they need to give students the individual attention they need, we see improved educational outcomes,” she said.

“Implementing the new Gonski review’s recommendations means a greater long-term investment in early childhood education along with resourcing schools to better induct, mentor, train and support teachers throughout their careers.

“It also means better support for children that have additional learning needs.”

NSW Teachers Federation states it will continue to campaign for a fair funding deal for public schools up to the next federal election.